Tag Archives: Cold

A Superior Coast of Stone and Ice

I do not know why the stark beauty of the Lake Superior coast surprised me so much; before, I had lived on its shores four years. In front of me, the grey sky mirrored the pale ice of the shoreline, and as I walked to the edge of Gitchigumi’s  ice encased coast at Gooseberry State Park I was captivated. Short waves in the small cove which curled out in front of me lapped at the shoreline and imperceptibly built up icicles that hung from ice ledges. The icicles were shaped like alligator teeth and seemed to dangle from the frozen mouth of a gigantic beast. Every rock was encased in a sheet of ice built  up one splash of water at a time. A careful cross-section of ice from on top of the rock would reveal that stone was at the core of an arctic onion.

The ice was inspiring to look at from a macro and micro scale. By getting close and touching my nose to the ice, I observed some the miniscule details contributing to the grand-scale beauty.  On the rocks, a result of the layers of water was gray-and-white banded textures mimicking the agates Lake Superior is so famous for. They were polished to perfection.  Colorful yellow lichens, tufted grasses, and rich green mosses were preserved on the rocks behind clear windows of curved ice. The magnifying effect of the curve threw pieces of the lichen out of proportion, and the the splashes of bright color they provided were in stark contrast to the granite. As I pressed my face close and looked,  it was impossible to guess how some of the textures had formed. In some instances, it seemed that some of the small pebbles trapped in the ice had received just enough sun to melt and separate themselves. The small void they left above their surface was filled with alternating grains and patterns. Reflecting on it now, everything looks a bit different when you observe the essence of a landscape.

One of the greatest joys of the afternoon was when the sun dissolved through the flat gray skies as a radiant sunset. The grey ice ledges and icicles no longer blended into the background colors of the horizon but instead reflected and bounced the many colors of the  sky. The Lake Superior coast was transformed. Translucent icicles absorbed and emitted the sunset’s light. Rays of sun illuminated the rock islands encased in ice.  Blue skies and orange clouds floated overhead and were pushed by the wind. Throughout it all I counted my blessings and documented its beauty. As the sun finally set I returned to my car feeling like I had been at just the right place, at just the right time.

Sunset on the Iice
The sunset bounces off the curved icy bubbles on the shoreline.
Sunset Emitted
These small icicles absorb and seem to emit the colors of the sunset behind them.
Flat Waters?
You may have noticed throughout the post that the water of Lake Superior was flat. That is due to a the long exposures that I used to emphasize the beauty of the ice. This image does not use a long exposure and shows a small wave breaking over the rocks.


Take A Seat for the Aurora Borealis

Last night I did it again, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Yup, when I bring someone out for their first aurora and they are so excited that they can barely stand, I share in that excitement. Their grin is my grin and their joy is my passion.  Their exuberance was warranted, as the aurora put on a beautiful show for us over the dogyards of Black Spruce Dog Sledding and for Alaskans across the state.  It was hard not pull up one of the empty sleds that beckoned to the watcher to layback, relax, smile, and enjoy the show. It truly is a beautiful world.

If you are interested in purchasing “Take A Seat for the Aurora”. Please top by my Fine Art America Site 🙂

Back in a Winter Wonderland

It has been awhile since you’ve heard from me, but all of that is about to change as I get my blog’n legs back under me. Until now I have been prioritizing my thesis which has now been defended. There will be several upcoming articles on the results of my work. I see no use in writing it if noone is reading it! I deem the upcoming articles as science communication”, and I hope you will find them informative.

I want to give you an update on the calendars too. Thanks SO MUCH to those who have purchased one. The response and feedback to them has been tremendous. I am now on my second and last printing. If you have been considering ordering one, now is the time! Visit: https://ianajohnson.com/customproducts/index.php/product/2016-alaskan-calendar/

Now onto the meat of this entry. Yesterday was my first day back in Fairbanks after being away for over 10 days. When I left, the remnants of a huge September snowstorm (17″) still lingered on the ground in low, shaded areas, but for the most part the ground was barren. It is amazing how only 10 days can change that. We now have 16″ of pure powder on the ground which is maintained by cold nights. Yesterday morning when I awoke it was -15F with a promise from forecasters that those temperatures will continue through at least this week. A seasonally late sunrise began at 9:15, and by noon the low light illuminated the tree tops and extenuated the shadows. I nearly skipped with joy into the  spruce bog behind my house where snow hung on the trees. I passed under trees that with a touch would have doused me in snow, and found pure joy in the beauty of this winter wonderland.

Later that night the landscape of refracting light and black spruce shadows transitioned to twinkling stars shining through a moonless night. I retraced my steps from only a few hours earlier and watched as the aurora built to the north. I watched for awhile and smiled outwardly at my knowledge of the stark contrast in light from just hours earlier.

Refracted Highlight
The sun highlights the top of a snow-pillow smothering an arched black spruce.
The dynamic light of the landscape is what makes it so beautiful. Shadows of the low sun contrast heavily against lighted spires.
Black and White Winter Wonderland
I really like how the black and white contrast of needles, snow, sky lend themselves to back-and-white photography.
Winter Sun Burst
The sun erupts through a gap in the trees, but has no heat this time of year.
Arched Spruces
The large snow-load has bent many of the black spruces over. They will rebound in the spring once their burden has been lifted.
Snow Covered Aurora
At night, the aurora lit up the landscape where I watched the the sun play across the tree tops hours earlier.
Low Aurora
A combination of short and tall black spruces creates a beautiful effect in this winter wonderland.
Spinning Stars in a Winter Wonderland
This starspin shot was set up for 2 hours. Focusing on the north star, it is amazing to see how much they shift over that time!

Autumnal Aurora

I jumped when my alarm went off at 11:30 PM, and I looked at my surroundings to remind myself where I was. The sleeping bag wrapped around me and my reclined seat reinforced I was in my truck as my blurry eyes brought the steering wheel in focus. My memories flooded back to me; I arrived 30 minutes ago, and with no aurora in sight had set an alarm and took a nap. I was expectant that a G2 storm forecast was going to pay out, and as I peered out of trucks window it seemed I was in luck. The aurora was starting to show a band high in the sky. I turned the ignition, and drove down the road to find the “perfect”, golden tree – my goal for the night was to fuse autumn colors and the aurora together.

I stood on the road with my head craned up, watching a beautiful, green aurora band overhead. This aurora was  Mr. Jekyll which soon morphed into Mr. Hyde – albeit a beautiful version of him.  I was not ready for the full force of the aurora as it transformed the sky into a green and pink blanket of shimmering, dancing lights so different than what I had been looking at minutes earlier.  The energy that rolled overhead, I learned later, was the result of a monstrous, KP7 event, that pushed the aurora into Washington and the Midwest.  I was so overwhelmed by the aurora that I expressed myself by simultaneously singing, praying, and taking pictures by myself under the vast display of lights. For those who know me, you might guess that I was also grinning broadly from ear-to-ear. My smile would not have disappointed you!

For parts of the night, my only focus was to capture the overhead aurora corona to the best of my ability. The last time I successfully captured the corona was in Denali National Park last year. I couldn’t be more happy to show you this gallery of images from last night  – there were many more taken! The gallery is chronological, and hopefully gives a sense of the scale of the aurora and how quickly it built. These images are taken at 9mm, and hence have a ~120 degree field of view!

I am continuing to boost my online portfolio, so please stop by if you have a moment! A selection of these images has been added to my Fine Arts America Photo Gallery for purchase. Thank-you for your consideration!

Fine Arts America Photo Gallery

The Negative 40F Aurora Club

While my friends on the east coast are getting pummeled by a record blizzard, here in Fairbanks, Alaska we’ve finally hit “seasonably cold” temperatures. As the mercury dropped On January 25th – 26th to 40 below, the clear skies were coupled with good looking aurora data. The humidity was only at 5% which for me meant perfect clarity to the stars! As I stepped out of the truck I sucked in my first breath of the cold air; it’s always the hardest one! The sting is from both the cold air and the dryness.It bursts into the lungs and bites the nose.

Although this was not my first 40 below night walking around in Alaska, it was the first time I took my camera out into those temps! Shooting at 40 below presented some unique challenges. First, battery life is depressingly short and I could only take about 300 images in contrast to over 1000 on one battery. Second, anything metal is extremely dangerous to the bare skin, and when you are out shooting metal is a common thing! I was carrying a magnesium alloy camera, and aluminum tripod with an aluminum head. Dealing with these items meant wearing liner gloves which resisted the cold like an ant resists a lollipop – I’ve never seen an ant that could resist a lollipop. The result is that I watched the aurora play across the sky in beautiful patterns on several occasions while warming my fingers! Of course, the disadvantage of that is I cannot print my photographic memory, but I still enjoyed a great show as my digits warmed up.  Third, clumsy mits made adjusting a cold, stiff tripod head quite difficult! What did I learn: future cold excursions will include a better pair of gloves!

With my petty whines aside it was a glorious night of aurora and aurora photography. I really focused on composition of shots, and although I did shoot a very short timelapse, most of my night was spent wandering through knee deep powder in the black spruces. Through the night the aurora shifted from an overhead band to the northern skies and danced in vibrant colors. Now that I am indoctrinated, I am looking forward to more auroras in the -40 club!

The other side of the story is the temperatures when I back to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I was hoping their thermometer would read an official -40, but couldn’t quite reach that. Although at 8:00 AM the sign read -40, so close enough! I’ve included a screen capture of the temperatures and humidity as a some proof as well 🙂

At 1:30 AM the temperatures were hanging around 36 below F (-38C).
At 1:30 AM the temperatures were hanging around 36 below F (-38C).
When I awoke in the morning the temperatures had dipped to -40 and humidity was holding at 5%!
When I awoke in the morning the temperatures had dipped to -40 and humidity was holding at 5%!

The Boreal Travel Plaza : A Cold Day at Sax Zim Bog

Ahoy Readers!

Yesterday Kassie and I made it to Sax Zim Bog (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/sax_zim_bog_iba.html) to go look for some of the boreal bird species that move in for the winter. In the region there are northern hawk owls, great grey owls, boreal chicadees and black-backed woodpeckers – of course there are many, many more!. Our goal was to beat the cold snap we are having in Minnesota right now – in fact due to the cold Governor Dayton called off school for Monday on Friday! That hasn’t been done since 1997. Although with windchill values exceeding 60 below for Sunday and Monday night I think it’s warranted. Amazing that I can experience the same intense cold in Alaska and Minnesota.

Cold temps in Perham this week!!
Cold temps in Perham this week!!

Sax Zim bog is located just south of Buhl, Minnesota on the ‘Iron Range’ (http://goo.gl/7mBiuM). I actually spent quite a bit of time up there as a kid, my dad is from the Hibbing region, and attended high school at Buhl.Here is the description of the area from the DNR website : ” Level to gently rolling topography are characteristic of this region. The largest landform is a lake plain. Soils include extensive areas of peat over both fine-textured and sandy lacustrine deposits. This site includes sledge meadows, lowland brush and hayfields. There are stemless lady’s slippers and other species of bog vegetation including sundew, pitcher plant, leatherleaf and bog birch.This well known wintering area for Great gray owls, Northern hawk owls, and Rough-legged hawks is an ideal habitat for more than 240 species of migrant and breeding birds.”. The opportunities are indeed great there! For more information on the area and the opportunities there visit : http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/sax_zim_bog_iba.html http://sax-zimbog.com/ http://sax-zimbog.com/birding-festival/ http://www.saxzim.org/

Birding at Sax Zim Bog. Image credit goes to : http://www.askthebirds.org/2012/07/sandhill-cranes-at-sax-zim-bog.html
Birding at Sax Zim Bog. Image credit goes to : http://www.askthebirds.org/2012/07/sandhill-cranes-at-sax-zim-bog.html

One of the northern migrants in Sax Zim are the northern shrikes. These birds are classified as song birds, but are carnivores. The eat insects and small rodents. They are known as ‘butcher birds’ because to cache food they impale their prey on sticks, thorns, or even barbed wire! The northern shrike below was stooping over the field hunting an unknown prey. I was able to capture the bird as he stooped into the blustery winds as and perching on a nearby branch.

Northern Shrike stooping in the blustery winds at Sax Zim Bog
Northern Shrike stooping in the blustery winds at Sax Zim Bog
Northern Shrike at Sax Zim Bog
Northern Shrike at Sax Zim Bog

Even with the condition of blustery wind we had some great opportunities to see some cool birds. Boreal chickadess are a migrant here we found a couple at the feeders there. Gray jays and a red-breasted nuthatch were also found at the feeders.

Boreal Chickadee at the feeders in Sax Zim Bog
Boreal Chickadee at the feeders in Sax Zim Bog
Gray Jay at Sax Zim Bog
Red-breasted nuthatch at Sax Zim Bog
Red-breasted nuthatch at Sax Zim Bog

As we were driving along the roads looking for owls Kass spotted a ruffed grouse sitting in the trees. She thought it was an owl right away, and so did I!!

Ruffed grouse at Sax Zim Bog
Ruffed grouse at Sax Zim Bog

At the end of the day we never did see any owls. The windy and cold conditions kept the owls hunkered down. However, I didn’t want to leave you without some pictures of them! Part of the reason we went up there was Erik Bruhnke, who runs Naturally Avian. Naturally Avian is his bird tour, education, and photography business and I absolutely encourage you to check out his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NaturallyAvian). If you enjoy birds and just feeling happy subscribe to his page, his posts and photography are both incredible. By visiting the page you’ll be able to see a lot of the birds that we ‘dipped’ (did not see) on. His pictures of boreal, great grey, and northern hawk owls are honestly second to none and are award winning. By visiting the Sax Zim bog website you can see great photography of the owl species and the boreal migrants.